Skip to main content

Full text of "The Study of the Negro Problems"

See other formats


STOP 



Early Journal Content on JSTOR, Free to Anyone in the World 

This article is one of nearly 500,000 scholarly works digitized and made freely available to everyone in 
the world by JSTOR. 

Known as the Early Journal Content, this set of works include research articles, news, letters, and other 
writings published in more than 200 of the oldest leading academic journals. The works date from the 
mid-seventeenth to the early twentieth centuries. 

We encourage people to read and share the Early Journal Content openly and to tell others that this 
resource exists. People may post this content online or redistribute in any way for non-commercial 
purposes. 

Read more about Early Journal Content at http://about.jstor.org/participate-jstor/individuals/early- 
journal-content . 



JSTOR is a digital library of academic journals, books, and primary source objects. JSTOR helps people 
discover, use, and build upon a wide range of content through a powerful research and teaching 
platform, and preserves this content for future generations. JSTOR is part of ITHAKA, a not-for-profit 
organization that also includes Ithaka S+R and Portico. For more information about JSTOR, please 
contact support@jstor.org. 



JAN. 1898. 

ANNALS 



OF THB 



AMERICAN ACADEMY 

ov 
POLITICAL AND SOCIAL SCIENCE. 



THE STUDY OF THE NEGRO PROBLEMS. 

The present period in the development of sociological 
study is a trying one ; it is the period of observation, re- 
search and comparison — work always wearisome, often 
aimless, without well-settled principles and guiding lines, 
and subject ever to the pertinent criticism : What, after all, 
has been accomplished? To this the one positive answer 
which years of research and speculation have been able to 
return is that the phenomena of society are worth the most 
careful and systematic study, and whether or not this study 
may eventually lead to a systematic body of knowledge de- 
serving the name of science, it cannot in any case fail to 
give the world a mass of truth worth the knowing. 

Being then in a period of observation and comparison, 
we must confess to ourselves that the sociologists of few na- 
tions have so good an opportunity for observing the growth 
and evolution of society as those of the United States. 
The rapid rise of a young country, the vast social changes, 
the wonderful economic development, the bold political ex- 
periments, and the contact of varying moral standards — all 
these make for American students crucial tests of social 
action, microcosmic reproductions of long centuries of 

(1) 



2 Annals of the American Academy. 

world history, and rapid — even violent — repetitions of great 
social problems. Here is a field for the sociologist — a field 
rich, but little worked, and full of great possibilities. Eu- 
ropean scholars envy our opportunities and it must be said 
to our credit that great interest in the observation of social 
phenomena has been aroused in the last decade — an interest 
of which much is ephemeral and superficial, but which 
opens the way for broad scholarship and scientific effort. 

In one field, however, — and a field perhaps larger than 
any other single domain of social phenomena, there does 
not seem to have been awakened as yet a fitting realization 
of the opportunities for scientific inquiry. This is the group 
of social phenomena arising from the presence in this land 
of eight million persons of African descent. 

It is my purpose in this paper to discuss certain consid- 
erations concerning the study of the social problems affect- 
ing American Negroes; first, as to the historical development 
of these problems; then as to the necessity for their careful 
systematic study at the present time; thirdly, as to the 
results of scientific study of the Negro up to this time; 
fourthly, as to the scope and method which future scientific 
inquiry should take, and, lastly, regarding the agencies by 
which this work can best be carried out. 

I. DEVELOPMENT OF THE NEGRO PROBLEMS. 

A social problem is the failure of an organized social 
group to realize its group ideals, through the inability 
to adapt a certain desired line of action to given conditions 
of life. . If, for instance, a government founded on universal 
manhood suffrage has a portion of its population so igno- 
rant as to be unable to vote intelligently, such ignorance 
becomes a menacing social problem. The impossibility of 
economic and social development in a community where a 
large per cent of the population refuse to abide by the social 
rules of order, makes a problem of crime and lawlessness. 



The Study op the Negro Problems. 3 

Prostitution becomes a social problem when the demands 
of luxurious home life conflict with marriage customs. 

Thus a social problem is ever a relation between condi- 
tions and action, and as conditions and actions vary and 
change from group to group from time to time and from 
place to place, so social problems change, develop and grow. 
Consequently, though we ordinarily speak of the Negro 
problem as though it were one unchanged question, students 
must recognize the obvious facts that this problem, like 
others, has had a long historical development, has changed 
with the growth and evolution of the nation ; moreover, that 
it is not one problem, but rather a plexus of social problems, 
some new, some old, some simple, some complex ; and these 
problems have their one bond of unity in the act that they 
group themselves about those Africans whom two centuries, 
of slave-trading brought into the land. 

In the latter part of the seventeenth and early in the eight- 
eenth centuries, the central and all-absorbing economic 
need of America was the creation of a proper labor supply 
to develop American wealth. This question had been 
answered in the West Indies by enslaving Indians and 
Negroes. In the colonies of the mainland it was answered 
by the importation of Negroes and indented servants. Im- 
mediately then there arose the question of the legal status 
of these slaves and servants; and dozens of enactments, 
from Massachusetts to Georgia, were made " for the 
proper regulation of slaves and servants. ' ' Such statutes 
sought to solve problems of labor and not of race or color. 
Two circumstances, however, soon began to differentiate 
in the problem of labor, problems which concerned slaves 
for life from those which concerned servants for limited 
periods ; and these circumstances were the economic superi- 
ority of the slave system, and the fact that the slaves were 
neither of the same race, language nor religion as the ser- 
vants and their masters. In laboring classes thus widely 
separated there naturally arose a difference in legal and 



4 Annaw of the American Academy. 

social standing. Colonial statutes soon ceased to embrace 
the regulations applying to slaves and servants in one 
chapter, and laws were passed for servants on the one hand 
and for Negro slaves on the other. 

As slave labor, under the peculiar conditions of colonial 
life, increased in value and efficiency, the importations of 
Africans increased, while those of indented servants de- 
creased; this gave rise to new social problems, namely, those 
of protecting a feeble civilization against an influx of 
barbarism and heathenism. Between 1750 and 1800 an 
increasing number of laws began to form a peculiar and 
systematic slave code based on a distinct idea of social 
caste. Even, as this slave code was developing, new 
social conditions changed the aspect of the problems. The 
laws hitherto had been made to fit a class distinguished by 
its condition more than by its race or color. There arose 
now, however, a class of English-speaking Negroes born on 
American soil, and members of Christian churches ; there 
sprang from illicit intercourse and considerable intermar- 
riage with indented servants, a number of persons of mixed 
blood; there was also created by emancipation and the birth 
of black sons of white women a new class of free Negroes : all 
these developments led to a distinct beginning of group life 
among Negroes. Repeated attempts at organized insurrec- 
tion were made; wholesale running away, like that which 
established the exiles in Florida, was resorted to ; and a 
class of black landholders and voters arose. Such social 
movements brought the colonists face to face with new and 
serious problems; which they sought at first to settle in 
curious ways, denying the rite of baptism, establish- 
ing the legal presumption that all Negroes and mulattoes 
were slaves, and finally changing the Slave Code into a 
Black Code, replacing a caste of condition by a caste of 
race, harshly stopping legal sexual intercourse, and seeking 
to prevent further complications by restricting and even 
suppressing the slave-trade. 



The Study op the Negro Problems. 5 

This concerted and determined action again changed the 
character of the Negro problems, but they did not cease to 
be grave. The inability of the Negro to escape from a 
servile caste into political freedom turned the problems of 
the group into problems of family life. On the separated 
plantations and in households the Negro became a constitu- 
ent member of the family, speaking its language, wor- 
shiping in its churches, sharing its traditions, bearing 
its name, and sometimes sharing its blood; the talented 
slaves found large freedom in the intimate intercourse 
with the family which they enjoyed; they lost many tradi- 
tions of their fatherland, and their ideals blended with the 
ideals of their new country. Some men began to see in 
this development a physical, economic and moral danger to 
the land, and they busied themselves with questions as to 
how they might provide for the development of white and 
black without demoralizing the one or amalgamating with 
the other. The solution of these difficulties was sought 
in a widespread attempt to eliminate the Negro from the 
family as he had formerly been eliminated from the state, 
by a process of emancipation that made him and his sons 
not even half-free, with the indefinite notion of colonizing 
the anomalous serfs thus created. This policy was carried 
out until one-half the land and one-sixth of the Negroes 
were quasi-freemen. 

Just as the nation was on the point of realizing the futil- 
ity of colonization, one of those strange incalculable world 
movements began to be felt throughout civilized states — 
a movement so vast that we call it the economic revo- 
lution of the nineteenth century. A world demand for 
crops peculiarly suited to the South, substituted in Europe 
the factory system for the house industry, and in America 
the large plantation slave system for the family patriarchy ; 
slavery became an industrial system and not a training 
school for serfdom; the Black Codes underwent a sudden 
transformation which hardened the lot of the slave, 



6 Annai^ of thb American Academy. 

facilitated the slave trade, hindered further emancipation 
and rendered the condition of the free Negro unbearable. 
The question of race and color in America assumed a new 
and peculiar importance when it thus lay at the basis of 
some of the world's greatest industries. 

The change in industrial conditions, however, not only 
affected the demands of a world market, but so increased 
the efficiency of labor, that a labor system, which in 1750 
was eminently successful, soon became under the altered 
conditions of 1850 not only an economic monstrosity, but 
a political menace, and so rapidly did the crisis develop 
that the whole evolution of the nation came to a stand- 
still, and the settlement of our social problems had to be 
left to the clumsy method of brute force. 

So far as the Negro race is concerned, the Civil War 
-simply left us face to face with the same sort of problems 
of social condition and caste which were beginning to face 
the nation a century ago. It is these problems that we are 
to-day somewhat helplessly — not to say carelessly — facing, 
forgetful that they are living, growing social questions 
whose progeny will survive to curse the nation, unless 
we grapple with them manfully and intelligently. 

2. THE PRESENT NEGRO PROBLEMS. 

Such are some of the changes of condition and social 
movement which have, since 1619, altered and broadened 
the social problems grouped about the American Negro. 
In this development of successive questions about one 
centre, there is nothing peculiar to American history. 
Given any fixed condition or fact — a river Nile, a range 
of Alps, an alien race, or a national idea — and problems 
of society will at every stage of advance group themselves 
about it. All social growth means a succession of social 
problems — they constitute growth, they denote that labori- 
ous and often baffling adjustment of action and condition 
which is the essence of progress, and while a particular 



The Study of the Negro Problems. 7 

fact or circumstance may serve in one country as a rallying 
point of many intricate questions of adjustment, the absence 
of that particular fact would not mean the absence of all 
social problems. Questions of labor, caste, ignorance and 
race were bound to arise in America; they were simply 
complicated here and intensified there by the presence of 
the Negro. 

Turning now from this brief summary of the varied 
phases of these questions, let us inquire somewhat more 
carefully into the form under which the Negro problems 
present themselves to-day after 275 years of evolution. 
Their existence is plainly manifested by the fact that a 
definitely segregated mass of eight millions of Americans 
do not wholly share the national life of the people; are not 
an integral part of the social body. The points at which 
they fail to be incorporated into this group life constitute 
the particular Negro problems, which can be divided into 
two distinct but correlated parts, depending on two facts : 

First— Negroes do not share the full national life because 
as a mass they have not reached a sufficiently high grade 
of culture. 

Secondly — They do not share the full national life be- 
cause there has always existed in America a conviction — 
varying in intensity, but always widespread — that people 
of Negro blood should not be admitted into the group life 
of the nation no matter what their condition might be. 

Considering the problems arising from the backward de- 
velopment of Negroes, we may say that the mass of this 
race does not reach the social standards of the nation 
with respect to 

(a) Economic condition. 
{6) Mental training. 
(c) Social efficiency. 

Kven if special legislation and organized relief intervene, 
freedmen always start life under an economic disadvantage 
which generations, perhaps centuries, cannot overcome. 



8 Annai^s of the American Academy. 

Again, of all the important constituent parts of our nation, 
the Negro is by far the most ignorant; nearly half of the 
race are absolutely illiterate, only a minority of the other 
half have thorough common school training, and but a rem- 
nant are liberalty educated. The great deficiency of the 
Negro, however, is his small knowledge of the art of organ- 
ized social life— that last expression of human culture. His 
development in group life was abruptly broken off by the 
slave ship, directed into abnormal channels and dwarfed by 
the Black Codes, and suddenly wrenched anew by the Eman- 
cipation Proclamation. He finds himself, therefore, pecu- 
liarly weak in that nice adaptation of individual life to the 
life of the group which is the essence of civilization. This 
is shown in the grosser forms of sexual immorality, disease 
and crime, and also in the difficulty of race organization for 
common ends in economic or in intellectual lines. 

For these reasons the Negro would fall behind any aver- 
age modern nation, and he is unusually handicapped in the 
midst of a nation which excels in its extraordinary eco- 
nomic development, its average of popular intelligence and 
in the boldness of its experiments in organized social life. 

These problems of poverty, ignorance and social de- 
gradation differ from similar problems the world over in 
one important particular, and that is the fact that they 
are complicated by a peculiar environment. This consti- 
tutes the second class of Negro problems, and they rest, as 
has been said, on the widespread conviction among Ameri- 
cans that no persons of Negro descent should become con- 
stituent members of the social body. This feeling gives 
rise to economic problems, to educational problems, and 
nice questions of social morality ; it makes it more difficult 
for black men to earn a living or spend their earnings as 
they will ; it gives them poorer school facilities and re- 
stricted contact with cultured classes; and it becomes, 
throughout the land, a cause and excuse for discontent, 
lawlessness, laziness and injustice. 



The Study op the Negro Problems. 



3. THE NECESSITY OF CAREFULLY STUDYING THESE 
PROBLEMS. 

Such, barely stated, are the elements of the present 
Negro problems. It is to little purpose however to name 
the elements of a problem unless we can also say accurately 
to what extent each element enters into the final result: 
whether, for instance, the present difficulties arise more 
largely from ignorance than from prejudice, or vice versa. 
This we. do not know, and here it is that every intelligent 
discussion of the American Negro comes to a standstill. 
Nearly a hundred years ago Thomas Jefferson complained 
that the nation had never studied the real condition of the 
slaves and that, therefore, all general conclusions about 
them were extremely hazardous. We of another age can 
scarcely say that we have made material progress in this 
study. Yet these problems, so vast and intricate, de- 
manding trained research and expert analysis, touching 
questions that affect the very foundation of the republic 
and of human progress, increasing and multiplying year 
by year, would seem to urge the nation with increasing 
force to measure and trace and understand thoroughly the 
underlying elements of this example of human evolution. 

Now first we should study the Negro problems in order 
to distinguish between the different and distinct problems 
affecting this race. Nothing makes intelligent discussion 
of the Negro's position so fruitless as the repeated failure 
to discriminate between the different questions that con- 
cern him. If a Negro discusses the question, he is apt to 
discuss simply the problem of race prejudice; if a Southern 
white man writes on the subject he is apt to discuss prob- 
lems of ignorance, crime and social degradation ; and yet 
each calls the problem he discusses the Negro problem, leav- 
ing in the dark background the really crucial question as 
to the relative importance of the many problems involved. 
Before we can begin to study the Negro intelligently, we 



io Annals of the American Academy. 

must realize definitely that not only is he affected by all 
the varying social forces that act on any nation at his 
stage of advancement, but that in addition to these there 
is reacting upon him the mighty power of a peculiar and 
unusual social environment which affects to some extent 
every other social force. 

In the second place we should seek to know and measure 
carefully all the forces and conditions that go to make up 
these different problems, to trace the historical development 
of these conditions, and discover as far as possible the prob- 
able trend of further development. Without doubt this 
would be difficult work, and it can with much truth be 
objected that we cannot ascertain, by the methods of socio- 
logical research known to us, all such facts thoroughly and 
accurately. To this objection it is only necessary to answer 
that however difficult it may be to know all about the 
Negro, it is certain that we can know vastly more than we 
do, and that we can have our knowledge in more systematic 
and intelligible form. As things are, our opinions upon 
the Negro are more matters of faith than of knowledge. 
Every schoolboy is ready to discuss the matter, and there 
are few men that have not settled convictions. Such a 
situation is dangerous. Whenever any nation allows im- 
pulse, whim or hasty conjecture to usurp the place of 
conscious, normative, intelligent action, it is in grave 
danger. The sole aim of any society is to settle its 
problems in accordance with its highest ideals, and the 
only rational method of accomplishing this is to study 
those problems in the light of the best scientific research. 

Finally, the American Negro deserves study for the great 
end of advancing the cause of science in general. No such 
opportunity to watch and measure the history and develop- 
ment of a great race of men ever presented itself to the 
scholars of a modern nation. If they miss this opportunity — 
if they do the work in a slip-shod, unsystematic manner — 
if they dally with the truth to humor the whims of the day, 



The Study of the Negro Problems. i i 

they do far more than hurt the good name of the American 
people ; they hurt the cause of scientific truth the world 
over, they voluntarily decrease human knowledge of a uni- 
verse of which we are ignorant enough, and they degrade 
the high end of truth-seeking in a day when they need 
more and more to dwell upon its sanctity. 

4. the work already accomplished. 

It may be said that it is not altogether correct to assert 
that few attempts have been made to study these problems 
or to put the nation in possession of a body of truth in ac- 
cordance with which it might act intelligently. It is far 
from my purpose to disparage in any way the work already 
done by students of these questions ; much valuable effort 
has without doubt been put upon the field, and yet a care- 
ful survey of the field seems but to emphasize the fact that 
the work done bears but small proportion to the work 
still to be done.* 

Moreover the studies made hitherto can as a whole be 
justly criticised in three particulars: (1) They have not 

*A bibliography of the American Negro is a much needed undertaking. The 
existing literature may be summarized briefly as follows: In the line of historical 
research there are such general studies of the Negro as Williams' ' ' History of the 
Negro Race in America," Wilson's, Goodell's, Blake's, Copley's, Greeley's and 
Cobb's studies of slavery, and the treatment of the subject in the general histories 
of Bancroft, Von Hoist and others. We have, too, brief special histories of the 
institution of slavery in Massachusetts, Connecticut, New York, New Jersey 
Pennsylvania, the District of Columbia, Maryland and North Carolina. The slave 
trade has been studied by Clarkson, Buxton, Benezet, Carey and others; Miss 
McDougall has written a monograph on fugitive slaves; the Slave Codes have been 
digested by Hurd, Stroud, Wheeler, Goodell and Cobb; the economic aspects of the 
slave system were brilliantly outlined by Cairnes, and a great amount of material 
is available, showing the development of anti-slavery opinion. Of statistical and 
sociological material the United States Government has collected much in its 
census and bureau reports; and congressional investigations, and state govern- 
ments and societies have added something to this. Moreover, we have the statis- 
tical studies of DeBow, Helper, Gannett and Hoffman, the observations of Olmsted 
and Kemble, and the studies and interpretations by Chambers, Otken, Bruce, 
Cable, Fortune, Brackett, Ingle and Tourgee; foreign students, from De Tocqueville 
and Martineau to Halle and Bryce, have studied the subject; something has been 
done in collecting folklore and music, and in studying dialect, and some anthro- 
pological material has been collected. Beside this, there is a mass of periodical 
literature, of all degrees of value, teeming with opinions, observations, personal 
experiences and discussions. 



12 Annals of the American Academy. 

been based on a thorough knowledge of details; (2) they 
have been unsystematical ; (3) they have been uncritical. 

In few subjects have historians been more content to go 
on indefinitely repeating current traditions and uninvesti- 
gated facts. We are still gravely told that the slave trade 
ceased in 1808, that the docility of Africans made slave 
insurrections almost unknown, and that the Negro never 
developed in this country a self-conscious group life before 
i860. In the hasty endeavor to cover a broad subject 
when the details were unknown, much superficial work has 
been current, like that, for instance, of a newspaper reporter 
who spent "the odd intervals of leisure in active newspaper 
work " f or " nearly eighteen months, ' ' in the District of Col- 
umbia, and forthwith published a study of 80,000 Negroes, 
with observations on their institutions and development. 

Again, the work done has been lamentably unsystematic 
and fragmentary. Scientific work must be subdivided, but 
conclusions which affect the whole subject must be based 
on a study of the whole. One cannot study the Negro in 
freedom and come to general conclusions about his destiny 
without knowing his history in slavery. A vast set of prob- 
lems having a common centre must, too, be studied according 
to some general plan, if the work of different students is to 
be compared or to go toward building a unified body of 
knowledge. A plan once begun must be carried out, and not 
like that of our erratic census reports, after allowing us to 
follow the size of farms in the South for three decades, 
suddenly leave us wondering as to the relation of farms and 
farm families. Students of black codes should not stop 
suddenly with 1863, and travelers and observers whose tes- 
timony would be of great value if arranged with some 
system and reasonably limited in time and space, must not 
ramble on without definite plan or purpose and render their 
whole work of doubtful value. 

Most unfortunate of all, however, is the fact that so 
much of the work done on the Negro question is notoriously 



The Study op the Negro Problems. 13 

uncritical; uncritical from lack of discrimination in the 
selection and weighing of evidence; uncritical in choos- 
ing the proper point of view from which to study these 
problems, and, finally, uncritical from the distinct bias in 
the minds of so many writers. To illustrate, the layman 
who does not pretend to first hand knowledge of the subject 
and who would learn of students is to-day woefully puzzled 
by absolutely contradictory evidence. One student declares 
that Negroes are advancing in knowledge and ability ; that 
they are working, establishing homes, and going into busi- 
ness, and that the problem will soon be one of the past. 
Another student of equal learning declares that the Negro is 
degenerating — sinking into crime and social immorality, re- 
ceiving little help from education, still in the main a menial 
servant, and destined in a short time to settle the problem by 
dying entirely out. Such and many other contradictory 
conclusions arise from the uncritical use of material. A 
visitor to a great Negro school in the South catches the in- 
spiration of youth, studies the work of graduates, and im- 
bibes the hopes of teachers and immediately infers from the 
situation of a few hundred the general condition of a popu- 
lation numbering twice that of Holland. A college graduate 
sees the slums of a Southern city, looks at the plantation 
field hands, and has some experience with Negro servants, 
and from the laziness, crime and disease which he finds, 
draws conclusions as to eight millions of people, stretched 
from Maine to Texas and from Florida to Washington. We 
continually judge the whole from the part we are familiar 
with ; we continually assume the material we have at hand 
to be typical ; we reverently receive a column of figures with- 
out asking who collected them, how they were arranged, 
how far they are valid and what chances of error they con- 
tain; we receive the testimony of men without asking 
whether they were trained or ignorant, careful or careless, 
truthful or given to exaggeration, and, above all, whether 
they are giving facts or opinions. It is so easy for a 



14 Annals of the American Academy. 

man who has already formed his conclusions to receive any 
and all testimony in their favor without carefully weighing 
and testing it, that we sometimes find in serious scientific 
studies very curious proof of broad conclusions. To cite an 
extreme case, in a recently published study of the Negro, a. 
part of the argument as to the physical condition of all 
these millions, is made to rest on the measurement of fifteen 
black boys in a New York reformatory. 

The widespread habit of studying the Negro from one 
point of view only, that of his influence on the white in- 
habitants, is also responsible for much uncritical work. 
The slaves are generally treated as one inert changeless 
mass, and most studies of slavery apparently have no con- 
ception of a social evolution and development among 
them. The slave code of a state is given, the progress 
of anti-slavery sentiment, the economic results of the 
system and the general influence of man on master are 
studied, but of the slave himself, of his group life and 
social institutions, of remaining traces of his African tribal 
life, of his amusements, his conversion to Christianity, his 
acquiring of the English tongue — in fine, of his whole re- 
action against his environment, of all this we hear little or 
nothing, and would apparently be expected to believe that 
the Negro arose from the dead in 1863. Yet all the testi- 
mony of law and custom, of tradition and present social 
condition, shows us that the Negro at the time of eman- 
cipation had passed through a social evolution which far 
separated him from his savage ancestors. 

The most baneful cause of uncritical study of the Negro 
is the manifest and far-reaching bias of writers. Americans 
are born in many cases with deep, fierce convictions on 
the Negro question, and in other cases imbibe them from 
their environment. When such men come to write on the 
subject, without technical training, without breadth of 
view, and in some cases without a deep sense of the sanc- 
tity of scientific truth, their testimony, however interesting- 



The Study of the Negro Problems. 15 

as opinion, must of necessity be worthless as science. 
Thus too often the testimony of Negroes and their friends 
has to be thrown out of court on account of the manifest 
prejudice of the writers; on the other hand, the testimony 
of many other writers in the North and especially in the 
South has to be received with reserve on account of too 
evident bias. 

Such facts make the path of students and foreign ob- 
servers peculiarly thorny. The foreigner's views, if he be 
not exceptionally astute, will depend largely on his letters 
of introduction; the home student's views, on his birthplace 
and parentage. All students are apt to fail to recognize 
the magnitude and importance of these problems, and to 
succumb to the vulgar temptation of basing on any little 
contribution they make to the study of these problems, 
general conclusions as to the origin and destiny of the Ne- 
gro people in time and eternity. Thus we possess endless 
final judgments as to the American Negro emanating from 
men of influence and learning, in the very face of the fact 
known to every accurate student, that there exists to-day no 
sufficient material of proven reliability, upon which any 
scientist can base definite and final conclusions as to the 
present condition and tendencies of the eight million 
American Negroes; and that any person or publication pur- 
porting to give such conclusions simply makes statements 
which go beyond the reasonably proven evidence. 

5. a program of future study. 

If we admit the deep importance of the Negro problems, 
the necessity of studying them, and certain shortcomings in 
work done up to this time, it would seem to be the clear 
duty of the American people, in the interests of scientific 
knowledge and social reform, to begin a broad and syste- 
matic study of the history and condition of the American 
Negroes. The scope and method of this study, however, 
needs to be generally agreed upon beforehand in its main 



1 6 Annals of the American Academy. 

outlines, not to hinder the freedom of individual students, 
but to systematize and unify effort so as to cover the wide 
field of investigation. 

The scope of any social study is first of all limited by the 
general attitude of public opinion toward truth and truth- 
seeking. If in regard to any social problem there is for 
any reason a persistent refusal on the part of the people to 
allow the truth to be known, then manifestly that problem 
cannot be studied. Undoubtedly much of the unsatisfactory 
work already done with regard to the Negro is due to this 
cause ; the intense feeling that preceded and followed the 
war made a calm balanced research next to impossible. 
Even to-day there are certain phases of this question which 
we cannot hope to be allowed to study dispassionately and 
thoroughly, and these phases, too, are naturally those upper- 
most in the public mind. For instance, it is extremely 
doubtful if any satisfactory study of Negro crime and 
lynching can be made for a generation or more, in the 
present condition of the public mind, which renders it 
almost impossible to get at the facts and real condi- 
tions. On the other hand, public opinion has in the last 
decade become sufficiently liberal to open a broad field of 
investigation to students, and here lies the chance for 
effective work. 

The right to enter this field undisturbed and untrammeled 
will depend largely on the attitude of science itself. Stu- 
dents must be careful to insist that science as such — be it 
physics, chemistry, psychology, or sociology — has but one 
simple aim: the discovery of truth. Its results lie open 
for the use of all men — merchants, physicians, men of 
letters, and philanthropists, but the aim of science itself is 
simple truth. Any attempt to give it a double aim, to 
make social reform the immediate instead of the mediate 
object of a search for truth, will inevitably tend to defeat 
both objects. The frequent alliance of sociological research 
with various panaceas and particular schemes of reform, has 



The Study of the Negro Problems. 17 

resulted in closely connecting social investigation with a 
good deal of groundless assumption and humbug in the 
popular mind. There will be at first some difficulty in 
bringing the Southern people, both black and white, to 
conceive of an earnest, careful study of the Negro problem 
which has not back of it some scheme of race amalgama- 
tion, political jobbery, or deportation to Africa. The new 
study of the American Negro must avoid such misappre- 
hensions from the outset, by insisting that historical and 
statistical research has but one object, the ascertainment 
of the facts as to the social forces and conditions of one- 
eighth of the inhabitants of the land. Only by such rigid 
adherence to the true object of the scholar, can statesmen 
and philanthropists of all shades of belief be put into pos- 
session of a reliable body of truth which may guide their 
efforts to the best and largest success. 

In the next place, a study of the Negro, like the study 
of any subject, must start out with certain generally admit- 
ted postulates. We must admit, for instance, that the field 
of study is large and varying, and that what is true of the 
Negro in Massachusetts is not necessarily true of the Negro 
in I^ouisiana; that what was true of the Negro in 1850 
was not necessarily true in 1750; and that there are many 
distinct social problems affecting the Negro. Finally, if 
we would rally to this common ground of scientific in- 
quiry all partisans and advocates, we must explicitly 
admit what all implicitly postulate— namely, that the 
Negro is a member of the human race, and as one who, 
in the light of history and experience, is capable to a 
degree of improvement and culture, is entitled to have his 
Interests considered according to his numbers in all conclu- 
sions as to the common weal. 

With these preliminary considerations we may say that 
the study of the Negro falls naturally into two categories, 
which though difficult to separate in practice, must for the 
sake of logical clearness, be kept distinct. They are (a) 



1 8 Annai£ of the American Academy. 

the study of the Negro as a social group, (£) the study of 
his peculiar social environment. 

The study of the Negro as a social group may be, for con- 
venience, divided into four not exactly logical but seemingly 
most practicable divisions, viz : 

i. Historical study, 

2. Statistical investigation. 

3. Anthropological measurement. 

4. Sociological interpretation. 

The material at hand for historical research is rich and 
abundant; there are the colonial statutes and records, the 
partially accessible archives of Great Britain, France and 
Spain, the collections of historical societies, the vast num- 
ber of executive and congressional reports and documents, 
the state statutes, reports and publications, the reports of 
institutions and societies, the personal narratives and 
opinions of various observers and the periodical press cover- 
ing nearly three centuries. From these sources can be 
gathered much new information upon the economic and 
social development of the Negro, upon the rise and decline 
of the slave-trade, the character, distribution and state of 
culture of the Africans, the evolution of the slave codes as 
expressing the life of the South, the rise of such peculiar 
expressions of Negro social history, as the Negro church, 
the economics of plantation life, the possession of private 
property by slaves, and the history of the oft-forgotten class 
of free Negroes. Such historical research must be sub- 
divided in space and limited in time by the nature of the 
subject, the history of the different colonies and groups 
being followed and compared, the different periods of 
development receiving special study, and the whole subject 
being reviewed from different aspects. 

The collection of statistics should be carried on with in- 
creased care and thoroughness. It is no credit to a great 
modern nation that so much well-grounded doubt can be 
thrown on our present knowledge of the simple matters of 



The Study of the Negro Problems. rg 

number, age, sex and conjugal condition in regard to our 
Negro population . General statistical investigations should 
avoid seeking to tabulate more intricate social conditions 
than the ones indicated. The concrete social status of the 
Negro can only be ascertained by intensive studies carried 
on in definitely limited localities, by competent investi- 
gators, in accordance with one general plan. Statistical 
study by groups is apt to be more accurately done and 
more easily accomplished, and able to secure more compe- 
tent and responsible agents than any general census. 
General averages in so complicated a subject are apt to be 
dangerously misleading. This study should seek to ascer- 
tain by the most approved methods of social measure- 
ment the size and condition of families, the occupations 
and wages, the illiteracy of adults and education of children, 
the standard of living, the character of the dwellings, the 
property owned and rents paid, and the character of the 
organized group life. Such investigations should be ex- 
tended until they cover the typical group life of Negroes in 
all sections of the land and should be so repeated from time 
to time in the same localities and with the same methods, 
as to be a measure of social development. 

The third division of study is anthropological measure- 
ment, and it includes a scientific study of the Negro body. 
The most obvious peculiarity of the Negro — a peculiarity 
which is a large element in many of the problems affecting him 
—is his physical unlikeness to the people with whom he has 
been brought into contact. This difference is so striking 
that it has become the basis of a mass of theory, assumption 
and suggestion which is deep-rooted and yet rests on the 
flimsiest basis of scientific fact. That there are differences 
between the white and black races is certain, but just what 
those differences are is known to none with an approach to 
accuracy. Yet here in America is the most remarkable 
opportunity ever offered of studying these differences, of 
noting influences of climate and physical environment, and 



20 Annai«s of the American Academy. 

particularly of studying the effect of amalgamating two of 
the most diverse races in the world — another subject which 
rests under a cloud of ignorance. 

The fourth division of this investigation is sociological 
interpretation ; it should include the arrangement and inter- 
pretation of historical and statistical matter in the light of 
the experience of other nations and other ages; it should 
aim to study those finer manifestations of social life which 
history can but mention and which statistics can not count, 
such as the expression of Negro life as found in their 
hundred newspapers, their considerable literature, their 
music and folklore and their germ of esthetic life — in fine, 
in all the movements and customs among them that mani- 
fest the existence of a distinct social mind. 

The second category of studies of the Negro has to do 
with his peculiar social environment. It will be difficult, 
as has been intimated, to separate a study of the group from 
a study of the environment, and yet the group action and 
the reaction of the surroundings must be kept clearly dis- 
tinct if we expect to comprehend the Negro problems. The 
study of the environment may be carried on at the same 
time with a study of the group, only the two sets of forces 
must receive distinct measurement. 

In such a field of inquiry it will be found difficult to do 
more than subdivide inquiry in time and space. The at- 
tempt should be made to isolate and study the tangible 
phenomena of Negro prejudice in all possible cases; its 
effect on the Negro's physical development, on his mental 
acquisitiveness, on his moral and social condition, as mani- 
fested in economic life, in legal sanctions and in crime and 
lawlessness. So, too, the influence of that same prejudice 
on American life and character would explain the other- 
wise inexplicable changes through which Negro prejudice 
has passed. 

The plan of study thus sketched is, without doubt, long, 
difficult and costly, and yet is not more than commensurable 



The Study of the Negro Problems. 21 

with the size and importance of the subject with which it is 
to deal. It will take years and decades to carry out such a 
plan, with the barest measure of success, and yet there can 
be no doubt but that this plan or something similar to it, 
points to the quickest path toward the ultimate solution of 
the present difficulties. 

6. THE PROPER AGENTS FOR THIS WORK. 

In conclusion it will not be out of place to suggest the 
agencies which seem best fitted to carry out a work of this 
magnitude There will, without doubt, always be room for 
the individual working alone as he wills; if, however, we 
wish to cover the field systematically, and in reasonable 
time, only organized and concerted efforts will avail ; and 
the requisite means, skill and preparation for such work 
can be furnished by two agencies alone: the government 
and the university. 

For simple, definite inquiries carried out periodically on 
a broad scale we should depend on the national and state 
governments. The decennial census properly organized 
under civil service rules should be the greatest single 
agency for collecting general information as to the Negro. 
If, however, the present Congress cannot be induced to 
organize a census bureau under proper Civil Service rules, 
and in accordance with the best expert advice, we must 
continue for many years more to depend on clumsy and 
ignorant methods of measurement in matters demanding 
accuracy and trained technique. It is possible also for the 
different national bureaus and for the state governments 
to study certain aspects of the Negro question over wide 
areas. A conspicuous example of this is the valuable edu- 
cational statistics collected by Commissioner Harris, and 
the series of economic studies just instituted by the Bureau 
of Labor. 

On the whole it may be laid down as axiomatic that gov- 
ernment activity in the study of this problem should confine 



22 Annals of the American Academy. 

itself mainly to the ascertainment of simple facts covering a 
broad field. For the study of these social problems in their 
more complicated aspects, where the desideratum is inten- 
sive study, by trained minds, according to the best methods, 
the only competent agency is the university. Indeed, in 
no better way could the American university repay the 
unusual munificence of its benefactors than by placing before 
the nation a body of scientific truth in the light of which 
they could solve some of their most vexing social problems. 

It is to the credit of the University of Pennsylvania that 
she has been the first to recoginze her duty in this respect, 
and in so far as restricted means and opportunity allowed, 
has attempted to study the Negro problems in a single defi- 
nite locality. This work needs to be extended to other 
groups, and carried out with larger system; and here it 
would seem is the opportunity of the Southern Negro col- 
lege. We hear much of higher Negro education, and yet 
all candid people know there does not exist to-day in the 
centre of Negro population a single first-class fully equipped 
institution devoted to the higher education of Negroes; not 
more than three Negro institutions in the South deserve the 
name of college at all ; and yet what is a Negro college but 
a vast college settlement for the study of a particular set of 
peculiarly baffling problems ? What more effective or suit- 
able agency could be found in which to focus the scientific 
efforts of the great universities of the North and East, than 
an institution situated in the very heart of these social 
problems, and made the centre of careful historical and 
statistical research ? Without doubt the first effective step 
toward the solving of the Negro question will be the 
endowment of a Negro college which is not merely a teach- 
ing body, but a centre of sociological research, in close 
connection and co-operation with Harvard, Columbia, Johns 
Hopkins and the University of Pennsylvania. 

In this direction the Negro conferences of Tuskeegee and 
Hampton are tending ; and there is already inaugurated an 



The Study op the Negro Problems. 23 

actual beginning of work at Atlanta University. In 1896 
this university brought into correspondence about one 
hundred Southern college-bred men and laid before them a 
plan of systematic investigation into certain problems of 
Negro city life, as, for instance, family conditions, dwell- 
ings, rents, ownership of homes, occupations, earnings, dis- 
ease and death-rates. Each investigator took one or more 
small groups to study, and in this way fifty-nine groups, 
aggregating 5000 people in various parts of the country, 
were studied, and the results have been published by the 
United States Bureau of I^abor. Such purely scientific 
work, done with an eye single to ascertaining true condi- 
tions, marks an era in our conception of the place of the 
Negro college, and it is certainly to be desired that Atlanta 
University may be enabled to continue this work as she 
proposes to do. 

Finally the necessity must again be emphasized of 
keeping clearly before students the object of all science, 
amid the turmoil and intense feeling that clouds the discus- 
sion of a burning social question. We live in a day when 
in spite of the brilliant accomplishments of a remarkable 
century, there is current much flippant criticism of scientific 
work ; when the truth-seeker is too often pictured as devoid 
of human sympathy, and careless of human ideals. We 
are still prone in spite of all our culture to sneer at the 
heroism of the laboratory while we cheer the swagger of the 
street broil. At such a time true lovers of humanity can 
only hold higher the pure ideals of science, and continue to 
insist that if we would solve a problem we must study it, 
and that there is but one coward on earth, and that is the 
coward that dare not know. 

W. E. BURGHARDT Du BOIS. 

University of Pennsylvania.